Tuesday, July 22, 2008


Over the last few years of my life, it has become more and more apparent to me that so much of our lives are ruled by fear. So many of our actions and practices stem from trying to avoid something we fear. We gather as much wealth for ourselves as we can, far more than we need, because we fear the possibility of not having enough. We multiply our defense budgets, build more destructive weapons, and elect certain officials because we fear that we are not secure enough as a nation. We have sex with anyone who shows us affection because we fear being alone. We buy certain cars because we are told we should be afraid of what might happen to our children if we don't drive the safest vehicle on the road. We schedule every aspect of our lives and try to plan and prepare for every possible occurence because we fear the unknown. It seems that we fear many things but most of these fears are driven by the one big fear, the shadow that hangs over all of us; the fear of pain and death. We do everything we can to avoid it. I imagine that if most of us took an honest look at the way we live, the way we spend our time and money, we would find that an enormous part of our lives is an attempt to control, sanitize, and organize this messy, dirty, chaotic world in which we live.
The Church is not immune to this neurosis either. Often we share the same fears as our non-Christian neighbors but we also have our own specific Christian brand of fears. Some churches fear that if they aren't a part of the latest trend or church growth technique, then their numbers will decrease. Other churches fear that if they do anything other than what they have always done, then some how they will have lost their way. We fear finding new ways of speaking and living the Gospel message. We fear being in conversation with people who do not share our faith. We fear asking hard questions of our own faith. Our fears, like those of the world, are ultimately driven by a fear of death but not physical death. Instead, we fear that our church may die or that our faith might die if we are not constantly diligent. As a result of this fear, we become defensive, approaching every new idea or new person or new challenge as if they could be the one that might strip us of our eternal reward if we are not careful. In my opinion, this defensive attitude has probably done more damage to the Church itself than any heresy or false teaching which the defense itself was designed to protect against.

Romans 8:26-39 is a bold assertion against the control which fear exerts over our lives. Paul reveals to us in these verses a God who is in control of the world and knows the ends to which He is drawing it. Paul brushes aside these fears with a single question; "If God is for us, who is against us?". He then goes on to argue that God is indeed for us. We know that God is for us because he gave up his own son for our salvation and because God's Holy Spirit is actively transforming us. (Here, Paul's argument bears a strong resemblance to Romans 5:1-11.) With this kind of God at work among us, "who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation or distress of persecution or famine or nakedness or peril or sword?" Of course not because our God and our God's love for us are both much greater than any of those things. We have nothing to fear because nothing can separate us from God's love.

In fact, Paul says that "in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer" (the same root word from which the atheletic apparel giant Nike and the Greek goddess of victory derive their names). Paul does not portray the Church as a huddled and defensive people whose lives and whose life together are crippled and controlled by the many things that they could fear. Instead, he declares that the Church is a community of courageous conquerors who boldly witness to the victory that has already been won for them in the person of Jesus Christ.

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